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Farming at crossroads? Majority of India's 'active' farmers are above 60 years

By Suddhansu R Das 

The recent data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows 10,677 people in the farm sector have committed suicide in 2020. Industrially advanced Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh occupy top three positions in the number of farmer suicides in the country in 2019 and 2020 consecutively.
The number of suicides among agriculture laborers in 2020 has increased by 18% over 2019. The hunger, malnutrition and farmer suicide in India can be reduced by taking simple steps.
First, the government should identify all water bodies in the country and revive them with the involvement of the local people only. No government expenditure should be made on reviving the water bodies so that people will develop voluntary spirit and community feeling to work for their own development.
It will test the leadership skill of the majority of the local leaders who can learn to give up their high profile attitude and actively involve themselves in community service. This will help the young generation to hone their leadership skills through community service.
If the government spends money to preserve the water bodies, it will attract middlemen and contractors who will seldom do any good to the water bodies and run away with fat margins. Besides, the vested interest will highlight the preservation and revival effort without visible impact; ultimately the general public will suffer.
Good political leaders should make the preservation and revival of water bodies a mass movement so that it would help millions of farmers grow two to three crops in a year. It will improve the living condition of farmers and boost agriculture productivity to end suicide, hunger and malnutrition in the country.
Second, the entire agriculture land across the country should be mapped, measured and geo tagged. Not a single acre of fertile land should be converted into non agriculture purposes except for defense and for very essential infrastructure projects. Strict law should be passed to protect and preserve the fertile agricultural land in the country.
Hundreds of square kilometers of agricultural land have been allotted for various projects like building educational institutions, industries and IT parks; the land allocated is far beyond the need of those institutions. Those entities have amassed land capital at the cost of agriculture and this attitude should be curbed with strong political will; the excess land should be taken back for crop production.
Government should pass strict laws to protect small and medium farmers from the land sharks who often grab prime agricultural land or lure the small farmers to sell the land. Today, 86.2 % small and marginal farmers in India own less than two hectares of land; political economists say the small land holdings are not suitable for agriculture. In modern times, small land holdings are much more profitable for farmers as farmers can maintain it well and grow a variety of crops with innovative techniques.
Subhash Palekar's team has innovated Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) method  benefiting a large number of farmers in Karnataka
Third, farmers should be guided properly by senior farmers who have proven track record in farming. Experienced farmer scholars should be given a leading role in evolving an agriculture development model in the country. There are many experienced farmers in the country whose voice is not heard due to the cacophony of the book pundits.
Subhash Palekar and his team have innovated the Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) method which has benefited a large number of farmers in Karnataka and in many parts of southern states. Zero Budget farming has saved a large number of farmers from high input cost, indebtedness and it helped farmers grow crops without life threatening pesticides.
Magsaysay Award winning Anna Hazare has converted his village Ralegaon Sidhi into a prosperous village with farm innovations, water conservation and with sheer dedication. There are many experienced farmers who can inspire the young generation in farming activities.
Government should identify genuine farmers and take their inputs in developing the farm economy. Today the majority of active farmers in the country are above 60 years which shows farming is at the cross road. 
It is very essential to attract young agriculture graduates and the village youth into farming activities since the jobs in industry and services are shrinking at an alarming pace due to artificial intelligence and automation etc. The solution to the agriculture problem is very simple and it is made very complex for political reasons.

Comments

Farmers commit suicides not because of crop failure but because farming has become economically viable and farmers are being debt trapped in one way or other and lured by freebies based on vote bank politics. They are always kept at the receiving end thereby making them subservient to freebies. Further, the farmers are not being trained for marketing intelligence to decided on the choice of crops to be grown as per the demand and supply equations. Finally, the right of the farmers to fix the price for their products is being grabbed by brokers and commission agents which constitute a mafia across the country. Jai Kisan has remained more as a slogan than the reality. Excessive dependence on farm machinery fueled by petrol and diesel has resulted in virtual extinction of cattle once used for farming, thereby cattle dung availability in rural India has become historic, due to which organic farming has become a casualty and chemical fertilizer and pesticide industry continue to dominate the marketing and social media, serving luring farmers into a debt trap to end up in suicides unable to recover. It is a vicious circle which warrants a scientific solution coupled with political will in practice but not in publicity.

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